Six hours later, one sweaty and hungry girl in a cowgirl costume stepped off the winding staircase, squinting in the late-afternoon sun.
That wasn’t half as bad as I expected, Tillie thought. It was three-quarters as bad. Still, that’s better than 100% as bad.
Fifteen minutes later, one exhausted and irritated witch in a red leather catsuit stumbled over the last step, toppling forward onto the ground next to Tillie (who was now sprawled out flat on her back).
“Full-body leather in the middle of summer,” Eve sputtered. “What was I thinking?” She stood and brushed the dirt from her knees, giving herself a once-over as she did so. “Although, I do look good.”
“I’m just happy we finally made it,” Tillie said.
“Yes,” Eve agreed. “Now let’s find out where we’ve made it to.”
Tillie rolled onto her side and watched Eve turn a corner around a clump of evergreen trees.
“Come see,” Eve said.
Groaning, Tillie followed Eve. As she passed the trees, she lifted her weary head. What she saw instantly re-energized her; spread out in front of her for miles and miles was the widest assortment of amusement park rides she had ever seen. Tilt-a-whirls, mixer-plixers, scramblers, rock-a-planes, and hundreds of other rides were present and accounted for, filling the clifftop from edge to edge. Although the park appeared empty, all of the rides were running – the metal octopus ride raised its tentacles one at a time, spinning its riderless pods amidst trails of blinking lightbulbs; the rollercoaster stood silent, a chain of empty railroad cars rushing down its big hill, bereft of screams; the ferris wheel rotated slowly, never pausing to fill its seats.
“This place looks wonderful!” Tillie said, stepping toward the giant metal archway that marked the entrance to the amusement park.
“It looks a little low-brow to me,” Eve replied.
Tillie scanned the arch above her. “Welcome to Rainbow’s End Fun Park,” she read aloud. “Where All Your Dreams Come True.”
“Goodie,” Eve said. She raised one arm and pointed above the rides. “I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that your friend is being help captive there.”
Tillie looked up, amazed by what she saw. Situated smack-dab in the center of the park, was a gigantic, looming castle, all grey stone, rounded parapets, and powder blue, pointed roofs. Blurred by the fog of distance, the castle looked like it had been pulled straight from the pages of a fairy book.
“But that castle looks so inviting,” Tillie said at last. “Surely, it can’t have a nasty dungeon like the one I saw in the Glass Eye’s vision.”
“Looks can – and often are – deceiving,” Eve said. “Look at me. Would you think I was a witch?”
“Yes, I would.” Tillie answered
Eve rolled her eyes and stepped forward onto the brick pathway. “I’m heading to the castle,” she said. “You can come with me or stand around here all night alone.”
Partly to take in the sights and sounds of the amusement park and partly to let Eve know that she didn’t intend to tag along behind her like a lost puppy dog, Tillie followed the pathway at her own leisurely pace. She lingered at an unmanned ring-toss booth, reaching across its counter to help herself to four large metal rings. She threw the rings at the row of standing pop bottles, but failed to get even a single ring onto a bottle. She moved on, examing the next booth – the balloon popping game. She grabbed a dart. Carousel music blared from a loudspeaker near her head. Normally, such music would have seemed merry and exciting, but echoing through the empty rides and the deserted game booths, the calliope’s cheerful notes seemed eerie and unsettling. Tillie put the dart back down and moved along.
She followed the trail around a corner and found a dizzying array of food carts. Corndogs, candy apples, funnel cakes, and elephant ears were all on display, unguarded and ripe for the taking. The smell of fried food reminded Tillie of the time she had helped Uncle Quentin scrub down the walls of his walk-in deep fryer after his week-long donut-making party. She walked to the nearest stall, grabbed a handful of bright blue cotton candy, took an enormous bite, and let it melt in her mouth. As she turned to investigate the next food cart, Eve appeared from around a corner, a gigantic roasted turkey leg clutched in one hand and a buttered ear of sweet corn in the other.
“Pretty tasty, huh?” Tillie called to the witch.
Eve jumped in surprise and hid both of her hands behind her back. “Oh, yes, yes,” she stammered. “I was just, uh, having a little snack. I haven’t eaten since last night.”
“Looks like more than a little snack to me,” Tillie said, grabbing another bunch of cotton candy and shoving it into her mouth. “That drumstick could feed a small army.”
“Look who’s talking,” Eve said, plopping down at the nearest picnic table and gnawing on the turkey leg. “The amount of cotton candy I’ve just seen you stuff down your little gullet could send an entire class of kindergarteners into sugar comas.”
Tillie grabbed a small basket of meat-on-a-stick from one of the carts and sat down on the bench beside the witch. She nibbled a bit of the mystery meat. Although she couldn’t identify what kind of animal she was eating, she had to admit – it was tasty. Just when Tillie was really starting to enjoy her meal – not to mention the sight of Eve with a piece of corn stuck to her upper lip like a beauty mark gone blonde – she noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.
A man rounded the corner, humming an upbeat tune. He was unusually small for an adult – less then 5 feet – and sported a pencil-thin mustache and goatee. He carried a pile of papers in his upturned hands; the stack was so tall that he rested his pointy chin on the top page. He was dressed from head to toe in shades of purple: lilac bowler hat, violet pinstriped trousers, plum waistcoat, and amethyst spats over lavendar shoes.
“Eve,” Tillie whispered, trying not to move her lips. “We’ve got company.”
The witch stopped chewing, a greasy chunk of turkey hanging from her bottom lip.
At that moment, the man in purple peeked around his stack of papers and made direct eye-to-eye contact with Tillie.
“Oh, sweet heavens!” he exclaimed, jumping backwards in surprise and scattering his stack of papers to the wind. “Constituents!”
Tillie and Eve froze in place.
Perhaps if we pretend to be statues, Tillie thought, the strange little man will move on.
But the strange little man had absolutely no intention of moving on; in fact, he did just the opposite. Ignoring the mess of papers, he rushed towards Tillie and Eve, his right hand outstretched and a practiced smile splashed across his face.
Tillie slipped the last bit of cotton candy into her mouth, stood up from the picnic table, and held out her sticky hand.
“Always lovely to meet a new constituent,” the man said, pumping Tillie’s arm furiously, “even one as young as you!”
“Thank you,” Tillie said, unsure of exactly what was happening, but trying to smile anyway. “It’s lovely to meet you as well,” she added, erring on the side of being overly polite; after all, the food that she had just eaten may have rightfully belonged to this man.
The man shifted his focus to Eve, who stood from the bench. “Enchanté, madame,” he purred, removing his lilac bowler hat. “You have a beautiful – and polite – daughter.”
The look on Eve’s face could have stopped a clock; in fact, over the course of the witch’s life, that very look had stopped 14 clocks, 2 food processors, and 1 hovercraft.
Tillie giggled at the man’s mistake.
“This child,” Eve said, pulling her hand away from the man, “is certainly no relative of mine.”
“My apologies,” the man said, bowing low. “I am merely a humble civil servant, not a geneologist or other learned man.” He remained frozen at the lowest point of his bow.
Eve didn’t respond, so Tillie took it upon herself to bow back to the man (as she had heard that people in the Far East do to one another). “My name’s Tillie McGwinn,” she said, rising from her bow. “And that’s Eve.”
“The Prince of Purple at your service,” the man responded, standing straight again. He returned his hat to its perch on the crown of his head. “I trust that I have both of your votes in the upcoming election.”
Tillie looked at Eve.
“And what election would that be?” Eve asked.
“Why, the bi-monthly elections for the various color manager positions, of course,” the Prince of Purple said matter-of-factly.
Tillie and Eve just stared at him, unblinking.
“Color managers,” he repeated, searching their faces for any glimmer of recognition. “No?”
“No,” Tillie said.
The Prince of Purple let out a sigh. “I don’t know why I’m surprised,” he admitted. “We’ve never actually had anyone vote in the elections before.”
“Never?” Tillie asked, amazed.
“Well, not in my lifetime, anyway,” he said. “My colleagues and I built Rainbow’s End because we thought it would draw constituents to the polls, but, so far, no such luck.”
“And, yet, you persist in holding elections bi-monthly, anyway.” Eve said. “And in maintaining all these rides. And in keeping this ridiculous amusement park stocked with food. That all seems rather pointless to me.”
“Hope springs eternal,” the Prince of Purple said, smiling.
“Ah, a cliché –” the witch said, “–the refuge of the unimaginative. How very typical of a politician.”
“Cliché or not, my hope was not unfounded,” the man said. “You and Tillie represent two new constituents. We now have voters!” Suddenly, the Prince of Purple noticed the niblet of corn still maintaining its hold to Eve’s upper lip. In an effort to be helpful, he averted his eyes, made an exaggerated coughing noise , and brushed at his own cheek.
Eve arched one green eyebrow.
The Prince of Purple cleared his throat again and continued brushing at his face.
“Oh, for the love of Pete,” Tillie muttered. She turned to the witch. “Eve, you have a disgusting, half-chewed piece of corn stuck to your face.”
Eve blushed and removed the offending piece of food.
“Now, then,” Tillie continued, “what, exactly, are these positions that you want Eve and me to vote on?”
“All of the color manager positions,” the Prince of Purple said. “You need to decide who should manage each color – red, white, orange, green, purple, black, blue, pink—”
“We do know what colors are,” Eve said. The witch had begun to pace, growing impatient with the little man.
“But, if you’re ‘the Prince of Purple,’” Tillie said, “why would you need our votes? ‘Prince’ isn’t an elected position.”
“Ah, yes,” the Prince of Purple stammered, “I see how that could be confusing. The truth is that all the color manager positions are elected positions, but each elected manager is allowed to choose his or her own individual title. I happen to be a fan of alliteration, so I chose the “Prince of Purple.” I was actually torn between the ‘Prince of Purple’ and the ‘Viscount of Violet.’ In the end, I had to flip a coin.”
“I think your coin made the wrong decision,” Eve said, circling the Prince of Purple like a shark.
“You do?” the Prince of Purple asked, looking genuinely concerned. “Well, then, if I am re-elected, I pledge to change my title to the ‘Viscount of Violet.’ The voters have made their voices heard!”
“We really don’t intend to vote in any election,” Tillie said. “We’re just here to find....”
Eve’s face suddenly appeared above the Prince of Purple’s hat, her lips pursed and her nose crinkled. She placed one finger to her lips in a “shush” motion; the move reminded Tillie of a particularly intimidating librarian she had once encountered while traveling through New Libreopolis with Uncle Quentin.
“...that is to say,” Tillie continued, taking Eve’s cue, “we’re just here to find out how much fun two people can have at Rainbow’s End Fun Park.”
“But, don’t you understand the importance of doing your civic duty?” the Prince of Purple asked, tugging at the front of his plum waistcoat in distress. “Our very society is based upon the idea that we should all be free to choose our government!” He was really beginning to work himself into a state.
“Perhaps I can persuade the child to take part in the elections,” Eve said, a sickly sweet smile spreading across her face as the Prince of Purple turned towards her. “After all, I may have lured her up here with promises of thrill rides, deep-fried candy bars, and giant, overstuffed teddy bears, but I always intended to use this occassion to teach her about democracy as well.”
“Oh, thank you, thank you!” the little man said, jumping into the air.
While his back was turned, Tillie stuck out her tongue at the witch.
“Perhaps,” the Prince of Purple continued, “with both of your help, the upcoming elections can restore a sense of stability to the heirarchy of the color managers.”
“What does that mean?” Eve asked.
The Prince of Purple glanced at the ground and fidgeted with his hands. “I don’t want to burden the public with the internal workings of the color managers,” he said at last.
“Oh, please,” Eve said, placing one, long arm around the Prince of Purple’s shoulders, “burden us.”
“I don’t know…” he said, his voice trailing off.
Tillie tugged at the Prince of Purple’s sleeve. “But, mister color manager, sir,” she said, batting her eyelids as if fighting off tears, “how will I ever learn about democracy if my elected officials are unwilling to explain it to me?” She set her bottom lip to trembling.
Eve stared at Tillie with a mix of amazement and envy in her eyes.
“Very well,” the Prince of Purple said at last. “How could I say ‘no’ to a child with such a thirst to learn?”
Tillie gave the witch a quick nod of satistfaction as if to say, “That’s how it’s done.”
“Four days ago,” the Prince of Purple began, “one of my colleagues made a drastic decision. The Baron of Black – who had always been an esteemed and reliable color manager in the past – unexpectedly announced, via signed and certified letter, that he was taking a leave of absence.”
“’Baron of Black,’ huh?” Eve put in. “Apparently you’re not the only color manager who’s a fan of alliteration.”
“Quite right,” the Prince of Purple agreed. “All of the color managers are fond of alliteration. All except the Magistrate of Orange, that is.” He shook his head slowly. “He always has to be different.”
“I like him already,” Eve said.
“Yes, well,” the Prince of Purple continued, “not only did the Baron of Black announce his departure – an unheard of move for a color manger – he also announced that his good friend the Governor of Green would have dominion over the color black in his absence. This change-over marks the first major shift of power in our order since.... the incident. Let’s just say it’s been a long time.”
As the Prince of Purple spoke, Tillie and Eve exchanged a series of knowing glances. The first glance said, “This Governor-of-Green-taking-over-for-the-Baron-of-Black situation seems more than a little coincidental considering that we’re currently investigating a curse that turns black things green.” The second glance asked, “Does it seem at all odd to you that the Baron of Black announced his leave of absence via certified letter instead of in person?” Finally, the third glance said, “Yes, I find that very strange indeed.”
“Just between us,” the Prince of Purple said, interrupting Tillie and Eve’s nonverbal conversation, “I don’t know if the Governor of Green is really up to the task of managing two colors. Over the last few days he has appeared run-down – when he has appeared at all, that is. He’s been very evasive.”
“And how would our votes help solve the situation?” Eve asked.
“You and Tillie could decide that the management of the color black should be given to a different, more capable, color manager. That would allow the Governor of Green to go back to being responsible for just the color green, which would, I feel, lift the mood of the other color managers considerably.”
“I don’t suppose you have a suggestion who could manage two colors at once?” Eve asked, knowing full well who the Prince of Purple had in mind.
“If pressed, I believe that I could handle the work of two color managers,” the Prince of Purple said, his head bowed reverently. “Although I do not seek glory for myself, I would gladly take on such a duty, if my constituents saw fit to lay the burden on my shoulders.”
“How noble of you,” Eve said.
The Prince of Purple responded with just a slight nod, as if accepting a compliment. “You don’t need to take just my word for the Governor of Green’s incompetence, though,” he said. “Why don’t you come with me to the Casa de Castle and join the color managers and me for our nightly banquet.”
“Casa de Castle?” Tillie repeated. “That means ‘House of Castle.’ That doesn’t even make sense.”
“We’d be honored to attend the banquet,” Eve said.
“Are you sure you can eat without getting food all over your face?” Tillie asked. “I don’t want you to embarrass me again.”
Eve gritted her teeth.
“Let’s set off, shall we?” the Prince of Purple said, breaking the awkward silence. “We have a long walk ahead of us to the Casa de Castle and the sun is already beginning to set.”
“Would you like some help cleaning up your mess before we leave?” Tillie asked.
The Prince of Purple raised his eyebrows before remembering the stack of documents he had spread across the ground. “Oh, the papers! No, no, thank you, dear. I’ll just leave them where they lie.” He leaned forward as if imparting a secret. “They’re all blank anyway,” he said. “I just carry them to look important.”
“Oh,” Tillie said.
After no more than three steps and no fewer than two, the Prince of Purple cleared his throat and began to speak, slowly and clearly. “Construction on the Casa de Castle began in the year aught aught seven,” he said, “and ended with its completion in aught thirty-three. The legendary architect Anton De Vole designed the castle, and a nomadic tribe of rock trolls performed the actual construction. The marble used for the front steps of the Casa de Castle was imported from the mines of Tooksylvania and flown in via a herd of pegasi. The Casa de Castle originally served as the dwelling of the first color managers; it was partially converted into a hotel by my colleagues and I when we commissioned the construction of Rainbow’s End Fun Park. It now features over 500 individually themed guest rooms with such whimisical names as ‘Fee Fi Fo Fun,’ ‘Knighty Night,’ and ‘The Room of One Thousand and One Pillows.’”
After listening to the Prince of Purple lecture on the history of the Casa de Castle and Rainbow’s End Fun Park for the better part of an hour, Tillie stopped paying attention. Instead, she marveled at the thousands of crisscrossing strings of lightbulbs overhead and the discordant sounds of calliope music and clanking fair rides. As the sun completedly disappeared gehind the mountains, the guided tour finally reached the steps of the Casa de Castle.
“...which explains how De Vole chose that particular shade of blue for the roof of the Casa de Castle,” the Prince of Purple said. “The color reminded him of his nanny’s eyes.”
Eve yawned, making no attempt to disguise her boredom.
“Listen to me, prattling on!” the Prince of Purple said as they climbed the marble stairs and entered the castle’s front hallway. “Here I am telling you all about Rainbow’s End and I haven’t even asked you about your journey across the Plains of Wompusmeeste!”
“Was that meant to be a question?” Eve asked.
“Quite right,” the Prince of Purple said. “How was your journey?”
“Actually,” Tillie said, “we had separate journeys.”
“Yes,” Eve put in. “I rode across the plains on a motorcycle.”
Tillie scrunched up her face like a sock puppet. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that, Eve. How did you know where to go from Lake Loch? You weren’t in the room when the Keeper of the Flame gave me directions to the cliffs from my vision.”
Eve patted the side of her purse. “I had a little helper.”
“What, like, a magical diving rod or an enchanted compass or a GPS or something like that?”
“Yes,” Eve said, smiling. “Something like that.”
“And how did you cross the plains?” the Prince of Purple asked, turning toward Tillie.
“I walked part of the way and was carried in a creeping house part of the way.”
“A creeping house?!” the little man exclaimed.
“Were you all alone?”
“No,” Tillie admitted. She pictured Grayden lying in the grass of the Plains of Wompusmeeste, the writhing form of the Wompus Wulf mashing him into the ground. “I came with a friend, but I, er, lost him half-way across.” She felt like she might cry again.
“Oh,” the Prince of Purple said, softly. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Tillie said. She tried to smile but was not even remotely successful.
The three of them entered the main hall of the castle. A giant crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, the light from its many candles amplified and reflected by the polished stone walls and floor. Tillie thought the chandelier looked like a massive snowflake, suspended in time. A three-tiered fountain stood directly below it, blue-colored water flowing in cascades down its sides and between a series of carved figurines: frolicking brownies, clapping bogans, dancing wood sprites, and even a few lurking kobolds. Running the length of one side of the great hall was a long wooden counter with hotel room keys hanging on pegs behind it.
“You can check in at the front desk after dinner,” the Prince of Purple said, leading them between the counter and the fountain.
“It doesn’t look like there’s anyone there to check us in, anyway,” Tillie said, raising her voice so she could be heard over the footsteps and falling water echoing throughout the great hall
“You’re 110% correct,” the Prince of Purple said, leading them away from the Casa de Castle’s main hall and into a dimly lit corridor. The narrow hallway had flagstone walls lined with a series of doors on either side and thick, sound-muffling, crimson carpet. “These are the guest rooms,” the Prince of Purple explained, “which you’ll see later – after checking in, of course. For now, I’m going to show you to the ladies’ powder room so you can freshen up before the banquet.” He stopped at the last door on the right and from his belt produced a shiny silver keyring crammed full of keys. He fumbled with them for a few moments, holding each one up to the scalloped wall sconce to examine the series of numbers inscribed in the metal. Having found the correct key at last, he unlocked the door and opened it, ushering in his two guests with a flourish of his arm.
Tillie stepped into the room and was nearly sick to her stomach. Everything was a shade of pink. Long panels of fuschia fabric draped off of a suspended metal ring in the center of the ceiling, stretching over to the hot pink walls and then cascading down to the coral tiled floor. Even if Tillie had been partial to pink, she was sure that the clash of colors would have made her want to vomit. The room was perfectly round and furnished with three vanities and a gigantic wooden wardrobe, all of which had curved backs so they fit snugly against the outer wall.
“I think I feel a seizure coming on,” Eve said.
“It is a rather wonderful room, isn’t it?” the Prince of Purple said. “The King of Crimson wanted to make it as girly as possible for our female guests. There is a selection of evening gowns in the wardrobe, if you’d like to change into something a little more comfortable for dinner.” He started to leave and then stopped. “Feel free to help yourselves to the gourmet cheese and cracker platter.” He indicated a tray of food that was sitting on top of the third vanity. “But please don’t fill up. It would be a shame to ruin your dinner. I’ll be back to get you and take you to the banquet in fifteen minutes or so.”
With those instructions, the Prince of Purple vanished back into the hallway, closing the door to the powder room behind him.
“What a jackanape,” Eve said, sitting down at the nearest vanity. She pulled her long green hair up on top of her head, pouted her lips, and glanced at herself in the mirror.
“I thought he was nice,” Tillie countered. “If not a little long-winded.” She grabbed a delicate wedge of Munster from the platter and took a bite.
Eve marched to the wardrobe. She ran her hand across its doors, which were decorated with carved images of blooming roses. “Let’s hope whatever’s inside is less tacky than what’s on the outside. After all, a change of clothes would be nice. Of course, a shower would be better, but the Prince of Putrescence didn’t seem to think of that.” She opened the wardrobe and let out a little “oh” of appreciation; there were at least 50 dresses crammed into the wardrobe. “There’s a nice selection here – including children’s sizes.”
“I’ll be sticking with my cowgirl costume, thanks,” Tillie said.
Eve looked up, frowning. “Do you really feel that is appropriate for a formal dinner?” She pulled out a child’s-size purple dress with ruffles on the sleeves and a frilly skirt. “This, on the other hand, is adorable.”
Tillie couldn’t tell if the witch was serious or joking, but she knew exactly how she felt about the dress. “If you like it so much,” she said, “then you can wear it.”
Defeated, Eve stuffed the tiny monstrosity back into the wardrobe and continued digging through the other garments. Finally she pulled out a slinky, red gown. “This will do nicely for me,” she said. She slipped on the borrowed cocktail dress and gave herself a once-over in the mirror. “Well, I just can’t do anything about this green hair.” She stuck out her lips as if kissing an invisible victim. “And I could use a little refresher on the lipstick.” She pointed to her handbag on top of the nearest vanity. “Hand me my bag.”
Tillie grabbed the beaded purse, surprised by its great weight. It slipped from her grasp, falling open onto the coral tiles. Three tubes of lipstick, a safety pin, a pair of chopsticks, a pack of sugarless gum, and several other small items slid across the floor.
“Be careful!” Eve yelled.
“Sorry,” Tillie said, stooping to pick up a broken compact. “I’ll clean it up.”
Eve’s face went pale. “They’re my things. I’ll collect them.” She attempted to kneel, but the snugness of her new dress prevented her from getting either hand within a foot of the floor.
“I’ve got it,” Tillie said, waving the witch away. She collected a skeleton key in one hand and hurried over to the next fallen object – something that looked like a small doll lying face down on the floor. Tillie bent close to examine the tiny object and recoiled in horror.
It was Lord Mareel – or what was left of him, anyway. His once-shimmering tail had become dry and brittle and his octopus arm had shriveled like a grape left in the sun. Tillie couldn’t tell if he was alive or dead.
“Oh, Eve,” Tillie murmured. “What have you done?”